As Harry Kane soared above the Arsenal defenders to make it seven goals against the Gunners in seven games, a familiar sense of déjà vu could be seen among those players wearing the red and white at Wembley.
Traditionally, Wembley has been good to Arsenal, the venue for three FA Cup triumphs in the last four seasons, but there were to be no celebrations on Saturday, as Arsene Wenger’s top-heavy side was swept aside by a dominant second-half showing by bitter rivals Tottenham.
We shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. Arsenal’s away form in 2018 has been disastrous. They’ve won none of their five games on the road in so far this year, losing four times and conceding 10 goals overall.
A week on from their 5-1 demolition job on Everton at Emirates Stadium, the Gunners’ dismal away record was encapsulated in another Jekyll and Hyde defensive performance.
The onus was on Hector Bellerin to attack down the right-hand side but he enjoyed next-to-no success and Arsenal struggled to muster up any chances of note in the first half until the Spaniard smashed an effort over the bar on 40 minutes.
The 20-year-old Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was the only defensive addition made by Arsenal in January and when Wenger was asked why he didn’t strengthen a porous defence which has conceded the most goals out of the top six (36) so far this season, a familiar excuse was made.
“Everybody looks for defenders,” he argued. “You could see again, you look at [Manchester City], they buy again a defender [Aymeric Laporte]. How much money did they spend on defenders in the last three years?
“We don’t have the financial power of Manchester City. And the fact that they conceded half the goals we conceded is as well down to the fact that, offensively, they are very powerful. And they have a lot of possession in the opponent’s half that we have not.”
While Arsenal were spending £60m – a club record – on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund, their rivals were strengthening in key areas by signing players that they desperately needed.
The departure of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United was indeed a hammer blow but it was offset by the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, so perhaps Wenger got his priorities wrong by deciding to bolster an attack which already boasted Alexandre Lacazette and super-sub Olivier Giroud, who has since been sold to Chelsea.
Lacazette’s late spurned opportunity to equalise – an excellent piece of play where he used his movement to go around Davison Sanchez before shooting inches wide – is an example of a player who looks rusty after playing a bit-part in recent matches.
Jonny Evans was targeted by Arsenal in January and what has been labelled as a ‘below-valuation bid’ was unsurprisingly rejected by West Brom. Although he’s not the world class defender Arsenal need, he would have added some solidity to a defence which has looked disorganised and vulnerable away from home this season.
Per Mertesacker is retiring this summer, Laurent Koscielny has a troublesome Achilles problem and the youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers need a spell on loan to aid their development.
Asked why he did not request more money to spend on his defence from Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, Wenger added: “If Kroenke gives you £200m, Man City then get £400m.”
The trend of blaming your competition for their intelligent work in the transfer market has to stop. Wenger needs to instead focus of better organising his defence if the Gunners are to have any chance of securing a top-four spot this season.
This is now Arsenal’s longest run of games without a clean sheet (nine) in 17 years. Those glaring defensive deficiencies weren’t addressed in January. They have to be resolved in the summer.
By then, though, it could already be far too late, with Arsenal looking increasingly likely to miss out on Champions League football for the second successive season.
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